Biophilic Cities: Or How I Learned To Start Loving Where I Live

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As the sustainable revolution motors along, I can’t help but wonder why it is taking so long to really catch on. What is holding back people like you and me and our neighbors from making it a priority? I don’t mean buying recycled paper towels.  This, while helpful,  slightly more expensive and a little less effective on spilled juice, is definitely not going to save our planet from deforestation. That needs to happen at a larger-scale. Rather, I’m interested in what is keeping us from becoming completely and personally invested in one of the most critical, watershed moments of our time? Is convenience really the only governing force driving our responsible or destructive habits? Maybe. But I’m inclined to think that we may actually be suffering from a disconnect that started when humans moved into cramped, urban living situations that were both destructive to the environment and tended to alienate us from nature. But the green revolution is changing all that right? Maybe.

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It took us a relatively short period of time to realize that there was something missing in these dark, concrete jungles and homogeneous, sprawling suburbs. And we are still trying to understand what that something is. I believe we unknowingly longed for our previous love affair with nature, a relationship that was readily available yet taken for granted before urban expansion. Luckily, we’ve gained some perspective on what not to do when designing homes, suburbs and cities, so now, it’s time to fall back in love with nature, literally. Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson who coined the term “biophelia”, which literally means love of living systems, believes our emotional and psychological connections with nature are a result of biological evolution and that there may be more at play with our affinities than previously thought. In this post I’ll outline a few reasons why biophilic design may not only positively affect our well-being, but may also affect our bottom line.

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Suburban Retrofit: Consumption vs. Production

 

We all accept that any home built before 1980 probably consumes energy rather than produces. And we know that most buildings today aren’t much better. Some dabble in industry-tested, user-approved microcosms of water conservation and energy production, and even fewer have thrown away the sound bites of “first cost” and “investment return” and have dove head first into responsible yet expensive net zero homes. Interestingly, The Center for Green Buildings and Cities at Harvard is exploring a strategy that may end up making a huge difference in the average home owner’s ability to achieve energy and water independence. They are currently experimenting with retrofitting a pre-1940’s home to attain net zero. The measures for success will be varied and at this point will still act as a testing grounds for possibilities.

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Throwing Water Down the Drain: Simple Steps for Heat Recovery

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Many of us turn a few knobs and, miraculously, hot water comes out without much thought other than our energy and water bills. However, the water that ends up in the drain retains a certain about of embodied energy that is capable of being recovered. This water is now technically graywater, but you’ve paid valuable money for the energy used to raise its temperature. It makes sense to recapture this energy and there are a few great products that can help with this.

Heat recovery is nothing new, however it is becoming more main stream and affordable than ever before. If you’re looking to cut a few bucks out of your energy bill while looking for a relatively easy way to help make a bigger impact on your regional energy footprint, then a small addition to your water circulation lines may be the answer.

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100% Renewable Energy With The Click Of A Button

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What if everyone could make 1 simple change in their personal habits that would, as a whole, benefit a larger population? First, we instinctively ask ourselves the question (no matter how large our green flag may be): what do I have to give up to make this happen? And if ultimately we can manage the risk, we may accept the proposition. This is the challenge for today’s green energy suppliers. In order to make it convenient for a large group of people, they need to make it competitive with larger corporations. What if you were told it would only end up costing you between $3-5 a month extra to have your electricity provided by 100% renewable energy? Cory, a representative of Green Mountain Energy, offered this option to us this weekend.

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Mobile Device Solar Charging Station

It’s seems that at the moment we are coming closer to achieving 100% 24/7. It’s nothing new and it’s not shocking. However it is certainly convenient. One can argue whether convenience has ever truly been as present as it is today (every generation has always been the most advanced in history). But right now certainly seems pretty slick. And yet there will always be a small part in most of us that wouldn’t mind a quiet, unplugged moment. However, even those who enjoy a fairly analogue lifestyle have been gutted of battery life one or twice. And there is something that just feels wrong about plugging up to a wall socket in an Applebee’s to get a few minutes of precious connection.

Steph and I were taking a stroll through Brooklyn Bridge Park last weekend and stumbled upon one of these.

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nstagram: maegenmichael

An AT&T mobile device solar charging station that boasts the equivalent charging rate of a wall outlet. There where 6 types of adapters that fit most devices. Though I did not need a charge, I couldn’t help but get a little giddy about the thought of soaking up my first ever solar phone juice. The iPhone 5 adapter looked like it had taken a beating in all it’s public glory, alas, it did not work. I have no doubt that in the coming months and years, these devices will be everywhere. So whether you like it or not, get ready for waves of friendly, yet probably very expensive energy to be available right when you need it.

Advanced Framing is Pretty Simple

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To the untrained eye, this image may look fairly conventional. However, this home, and many others, are the product of the quickly advancing industry of building science. You’re looking at a growing trend called advanced framing, also called (OVE) optimum value engineering,  that is responsible for lowering construction cost and improving building performance.  Developed in the 1960’s by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, advanced framing is finally starting to become integrated into an overall building performance strategy. Here’s how:

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Got Married

 

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Photo by Chelsea Proulx

 

We recently spent some time in the charming old town of New Haven, CT. While previously, New Haven held a sense a professional responsibility, with the occasional apertif, this visit was different, and a little more personal. We came back for a small visit and to get married in the gloriously picturesque Edgerton Park, with a simple reception at Barcelona Wine Bar.  We met while working in New Haven in 2008, lived there for another 5 and then moved to Brooklyn to develop our personal interests in people, cities and, of course, architecture and design. We will get back to posting shortly. Thanks for all the kind wishes and we are incredibly grateful to have each other and such a supportive network of family and friends. Live well.

 

Steph + Mike

 

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